With COVID-19 vaccines in sight and increasing hope that next year can bring with it a decent rebound for international travel, UK carrier British Airways has tweaked its summer 2021 schedules to account for what it no doubt considers to be a realistic expectation of ‘right size’ capacity, as the recovery emerges.
One of the airline’s long-established and relatively rare Airbus A380 routes is between London and Singapore, while its longest direct (albeit not non-stop) flight is between London and Sydney, transiting at Changi in each direction.
COVID-19 has already meant some significant changes to those schedules, not least the suspension of Sydney flights altogether, however this latest schedule update for 2021 sheds light on what BA intends for these cities in the coming year.
A380s will not fly to Singapore
British Airways suspended Airbus A380 service to and from Singapore in late March 2020, as it did with most other routes and in common with many other operators globally.
BA will stick to using its Boeing 777-300ER instead of the giant Airbus A380 on all of its regular daily ‘turnaround’ London – Singapore flights in 2021, those being the BA11/12 service.
That’s been the case since these flights were dialled back to four times weekly, though they are scheduled to become daily again from mid-January 2021.
From 11th January 2021
Aside from some minor timing differences in the summer season, this schedule continues using Boeing 777-300ER aircraft until the end of the published schedule in November 2021.
That means BA’s Airbus A380s are not currently scheduled to fly to or from Singapore for at least a year. Like many in the world, all 12 of the carrier’s superjumbos are currently in storage.
Sydney gets the Boeing 787-9
The daily BA11/12 London service isn’t Changi’s only regular British Airways flight in ‘normal times’.
There’s also a second daily flight (BA15/16), which continues to Sydney. The carrier has fifth-freedom rights on the Singapore – Sydney sectors, also opening up the option to simply fly between the Lion City and Australia in isolation, without continuing to (or originating from) London.
From March 2021, British Airways is reinstating its (currently suspended) BA15/16 Sydney service using the regular Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, however that plan quickly changes.
From the start of the northern summer season on 29th March 2021, BA switches to operating its four-class Boeing 787-9 aircraft, rather than the Boeing 777-300ER.
From 29th March 2021
As with the A380 to Boeing 777-300ER switch, a downgauge on the Sydney route to the Boeing 787-9 is quite a significant capacity drop compared to 2019.
|BA Capacity Singapore ⇄ Sydney|
British Airways intends to restart this route next year with around 28% fewer seats on offer than it did at pre-COVID levels. Proportionately, First Class sees the biggest impact, with a cut from 14 to 8 seats, which potentially doesn’t bode well for award availability.
We had a look at Singapore to Sydney award space in First Class next summer and it is indeed quite limited, but in the other direction from Sydney to Singapore there is a swathe of redemption opportunities, including up to five First Class seats on a single flight, in August and September 2021.
If you want to travel from Sydney to Singapore in style next year, hopefully with the ability to also access the excellent Qantas First Lounge for pre-flight Champagne, à la carte dining and a spa treatment, this is a great way to do it for 68,000 Avios on an off-peak date or 80,000 Avios on a peak date.
Business Class is widely available on the Singapore – Sydney route in both directions, at 50,000 Avios (off-peak) and 60,000 Avios (peak), but the Club World seat on the Boeing 787-9 is nothing to write home about.
Is it good news or bad news?
For both routes, it’s a capacity cut. However, that’s not unexpected given the likely nature of demand recovery in 2021, with IATA forecasting global passenger traffic will not rebound to 2019 levels until around 2023/24.
If you’re booked on a BA flight from Singapore to London or Sydney though, you’re probably more interested in what difference this will make to the cabin product offered.
For those flying First Class on BA11/12 between London and Singapore, unfortunately this news is probably a downgrade.
The Airbus A380 First Class seats, previously used on this route and initially expected back in 2021, are some 50% larger than their Boeing 777-300ER counterparts, so expect a tighter fit on your ‘downgauged’ flight.
If you’re on BA15/16 to either London or Sydney on the other hand, you’ve now got BA’s latest First Class product ‘evolution’ to look forward to, in the form of the airline’s most intimate two-row cabin with eight seats in total.
As we mentioned above, the smaller cabin would spell bad news for award space in ‘normal times’, with six fewer seats per Singapore – Sydney flight compared to the 14 installed on the Boeing 777-300ER, but this doesn’t seem to be a significant issue at the moment, probably due to low demand with few people making travel plans even for next year at this stage.
That also applies for the BA15/16 Singapore – London sectors on these smaller Dreamliners.
Whether you were planning to fly on the Airbus A380 or Boeing 777-300ER on BA’s London – Singapore – Sydney flights, the carrier’s Business Class (or ‘Club World’) product is effectively identical, though it is a little bit newer on the superjumbo and the Boeing 787-9 soon appearing on the BA15/16 routing.
One big benefit if you now find yourself flying to Sydney or London on the Boeing 787-9 in Club World is the bonus of the two-row ‘mini-cabin’.
This previously wasn’t an option in BA’s 56-seat Club World cabin on Boeing 777-300ERs serving the Sydney route, which occupies one large section between the second and third main aircraft doors.
The 787-9’s mini-cabin, by contrast, feels secluded and private by contrast, even if it still houses the airline’s lousy old Business Class seats.
A possible negative for couples on the narrower Boeing 787 however is the 2-3-2 layout, leaving a single rear-facing seat rather than the previous pair.
In October this year British Airways had a fantastic Avios sale, with 50% off the miles required to fly in any cabin class on long-haul flights.
Rates included Singapore – Sydney in First Class from 34,000 Avios and Singapore – London from 43,750 Avios, for travel before 30th June 2021.
If like us you took advantage with a speculative booking for next year, you may want to log on and check your seat allocation.
For those in Business Class who now find themselves on the Boeing 787-9, try to get a spot in the mini-cabin (rows 6 or 7) if you can.
What about Club Suites?
The wildcard in all this is the new British Airways ‘Club Suite’ Business Class product.
This wasn’t slated for the Singapore or Sydney routes yet, and indeed won’t be installed on the Airbus A380s anytime soon, however it is beginning to appear on Boeing 777-300ERs, alongside the Boeing 787-style First Class adapted with closing privacy doors.
The real benefit of these aircraft though is the new Club Suites product, which may now appear on the BA11/12 Singapore – London flights as more Boeing 777-300ERs are fitted (though the exact retrofit plans may now have changed).
When it comes to the Boeing 787-9, Club Suites were not originally planned to be fitted to these aircraft until 2022, a timescale that may have even slipped further, which means Sydney looks set to go without the Club Suite for at least the next year.
Hong Kong and Bangkok also change
Our readers in Hong Kong may also note that the two daily British Airways services to and from London will be operating with different aircraft than usual in the summer 2021 season:
Airbus A380Boeing 777-300ER
Boeing 777-300ERBoeing 787-9
This will mean Hong Kong passengers also lose the more spacious Airbus A380 First Class seats, but will benefit from the newest First Class on the Boeing 787-9, with a smaller capacity.
Bangkok flights (BA9/10) will change from Boeing 777-200 to Boeing 787-9 service next summer, though the First Class cabin is not being sold on these flights. That usually means the seats themselves will go to Gold status holders, with no differentiation in service.
Once BA flights become more regular through Changi Airport, we expect the airline’s dedicated lounge facility in Terminal 1 will reopen.
We have a full review of the lounge from 2019, including an overview of ‘The Bar Singapore’, a dedicated section exclusively for the airline’s own First Class passengers.
These plans for the summer 2021 season from late March 2021 are still subject to further adjustment given the changing COVID-19 situation, though it looks a safe bet that Singapore will not be receiving any British Airways Airbus A380s for the foreseeable future.
The daily BA11/12 service will instead be operated by the Boeing 777-300ER, while the additional BA15/16 flight, which continues to Sydney, will now get the Boeing 787-9 for the first time.
It’s a mixed bag of news for cabin products, with those on the Boeing 787 in First Class likely to be the most pleased, given that this is the latest version of BA’s seats.
There’s even a chance of a ‘closed door suite’ in First Class and Club Suites in Business Class on the Boeing 777-300ERs, with more refitted aircraft being added, though this looks to be far from guaranteed and the Sydney route definitely won’t benefit in 2021.
(Cover Photo: Heathrow Airport Limited)